HOW CORPORATIONS ARE CHANGING SKATEBOARDING AND WHY IT MATTERS

In the past decade there has been a huge increase in the level of corporate involvement in skateboarding, and we may be returning to a form of skateboarding that Steve Rocco, Mike Vallely, Mark Gonzales, and others desperately tried to escape in the early 1990’s.

New members within the skate community, like Eric Wiseman, Phil Knight, Herbert Hainer, the Maloofs, Gary Ream, William Sweedler, Neil Cole, and Andrew Kline, are all challenging what it means to be a skateboarder and how we skateboard. These men (that have probably never stepped foot on a skateboard) run or are the money behind VF Corp [Vans], Nike, Adidas, Maloof Money Cup, Woodward, Sequential Brands [DVS], Iconix [Zoo York], and Park Lane Sports Investment Banking [Street League]. Through their economic capital, and power outside of skateboarding they have been able to force their way into powerful positions within skateboarding and are able to directly profit off of our activity. Should we care if non-skaters are allowed to hold powerful positions in our culture? Should we care if skaters associate with these people and buy their products? Will it change how we skateboard, how we view ourselves, and how we view the world?

iconix brand - owns zoo york, rocawear, ed hardy and many more / photo: rob tannenbaum

Of course! As skateboarders we all share social space and none of us exist in a vacuum (in some way all of our actions affect the skate culture as a whole and every skater within it). Within this social space our collective actions have produced and emphasized how important creativity, autonomy, cooperation, and fun are within skateboarding. These values make up the dominant ideology within skateboarding, which shapes our identities, how we view the world and how we act within it. But as more and more corporations enter the activity, they are challenging and attempting to shift the dominant ideology and performance of skateboarding into something that allows them to rationally fulfill their sole purpose: the pursuit of profit. If they are successful it may not change the ideology or performance of skaters like myself that have been involved in the activity for many years, but it will change the ideology, the space, and economics of skateboarding for younger skaters, and alienate older skaters from a social world they helped create and maintain until it was invaded by and sold to outsiders.

Many of these outsiders are attempting to run skateboarding with the same principles that drive many modern corporations, which are completely incompatible with street-skating as we know it. As George Ritzer points out in The McDonaldization of Society, businesses attempt to operate in an extremely efficient fashion. They focus on making everything quantifiable (skatemetrics) rather than focusing on creating subjective quality (“best” video part), they want everything to be predictable (i.e. standardized, the same experience every time), and they want all aspects of a business or activity to be easily controlled, basically the antithesis of what skateboarding is today. As the corporation’s values become more and more apart of skateboarding and influence the ideologies of individual skaters, the greater the potential that our activity will fundamentally change. Skateboarding won’t be like the activity we all know today, instead it will have an ideology and a performance similar to that of football, or, as Rob Dyrdek is praying for, the UFC.

If corporations continue to gain influence within our culture the dominant form of skateboarding may move from the streets, where it is difficult to control or directly profit off of, into the contained space of the park. Additionally the skate video may also fall to the wayside. Why spend the money to send a skate team to Barcelona for three weeks to film ten tricks, when you can fly one skater to Gilbert, AZ for a couple of days and have your logo seen throughout the world on ESPN?

Instead of inefficiently, creatively, and collaboratively creating skate videos, skaters will efficiently and competitively enter into the highly predictable, standardized, quantifiable, and controllable world of mega-contests. In this social-world, there is no time for a skater to push himself spending hours trying to land a trick, because it is inefficient. There is little room for creativity (i.e. no backside 50-50 finger-flip) because, “it isn’t good strategy.” And there is no reason to seek out new skate spots as it more efficient for all skate contests to take place in the same stylized spaces. Whether you are in Gilbert or Toronto you can watch Chaz Ortiz jump down the exact same 10 stair. If corporate skating begins to dominate there will be little room left for the skating that Louie Barletta, Chris “Mango” Milic, or Jeff Stevens do, there will only be room for the (amazing, but) standardized and predictable skating of Greg Lutzka, Ryan Sheckler, and Nyjah Houston.

A strong corporate presence within our culture will change the economics of skateboarding. As we have seen in the past seven years, Nike and Adidas’s presence has escalated the number of skater owned skate shoe companies that have gone out of business, which limits the ability of skaters to influence skateboarding. Skater owned companies are in dire economic situations, not because of natural fluctuations within the skateboard market, but because of the imbalance of economic power within skateboarding that is evident in a post-Consolidunk era.

The entrance of Nike, Adidas, and other mega-corporations, has created a situation similar to what many popular but small coffee shops faced when dealing with Starbucks. Starbucks would open across the street from a local coffee shop, and even if the local coffee shop was doing well prior to Starbucks entrance, the small shops couldn’t afford to operate in such close proximity to a Starbucks “Café,” which could afford to run at a loss, dump huge amounts of money into advertisements and promotions, and do huge amounts of market research on potential customers because of its deep pockets. Eventually the small café would go under, which allowed Starbucks to dominate the local market, not because their product was superior, but because of their economic might (see Naomi Klien’s book No Logo and Ocean Howell’s “Extreme Market Research”).

photo: jared wickerham

Corporations are also changing the idea of what skaters think they deserve to be paid, how much profit companies… err shareholders should expect to profit off them, and how little corporations need to invest into the culture as a whole. It has become “common sense” that Chris Cole and other mega-stars deserve to make an average of $40,000 per month, while many pros pull a salary much closer to $2000 a month, or are being dropped in order to pay for the mega-stars contracts. It has become reasonable that the publicly traded corporation Zumiez does hundreds of millions in sales in each year, but doesn’t sponsor one skater.

And we are all amazed that the Maloofs are willing to put up a $500,000 cash prize, when in reality $500,000 is nothing when we consider the fact that the Maloof family is worth approximately 1 billion! 500k is 1/2000 of their net worth. This is the same as if the average American family (net worth 77K) was to “give away” $15 (I put give away in quotes since the Maloofs profit off the Money Cup and do not lose money). It seems that skateboarding is separating into two poles: one where a few businesses and a very small group of skaters are making lots of money, while everyone else is fucked. Sadly, our new ideology allows us to see this as normal, when in reality this is a very unusual state of affairs for skateboarding.

all these brands are owned by VF corp

Finally, the large corporations buying, selling, and trading skate companies drastically affects the structure of the skateboard world. We recently saw this when Mark Ecko sold Zoo York to Iconix, who then decided it would improve their bottom line if they abandoned Zoo York’s “skate program” and dumped some of their riders.

Another example of the consequences of skateboard companies being bought and sold as commodities instead of being treated as pillars within the skateboard community is VF Corp’s acquisition of Timberland. VF Corp recently purchased Timberland, which had owned Ipath. A few months before VF Corp acquired Timberland Ipath was sold to Klone Lab, which lead to the restructuring of Ipath and the loss of a good portion of the team (as we see with Birdhouse’s new pro Ben Raybourn, the up-coming ams Ryan Reyes, Ryan Lay, and many others all leaving the company).

Corporations only value skate-companies and skateboarders in relation to how much capital they can generate for a group of shareholders, instead of valuing them as important parts of our culture. In the world of corporate skateboarding, skate-companies and skaters are simply commodities that are meant to be bought, profited from, and then thrown away.

If the corporations continue to increase their hold of skateboarding the ramifications for skateboarding in terms of culture, space, and economics will be huge. Instead of waiting to see Mango’s next creative part, the hijinks of the Baker Boys or the adventure of Wallner’s next skate-documentary we will be stuck watching Alex Klein attempt to sell competitive skateboarding to outsiders and Sheckler win at skateboarding by being the “best”. Rather than being anomalies these skaters will become the norm if we return to the world of corporate skateboarding, and we will end up in a worse spot than we were in the 1980s when Vallely, Rocco, Gonzales, and others all first rebelled against corporate control.

For more info check out these article references & suggested readings.

Words: Lurper
Original Illustration: Lauren Kolesinskas
Rant, comment or bitch on our Facebook
Let us spam you on Twitter

Comments

  1. StimCoCruzer:

    As a real skater, i only support skater owned and run brands.

    ive never been into Nike puma converse (commie stars) adidas red bull skullcandy raw papers etc.

    weve seen this before in our industry and what happens is not pretty. skaters get dropped, brands get cut after people start depending on them etc.

    look at that pic folks. do they look like skaters to you?

    never support their brands, or skating will be dumbed down and twisted just like what happened to the MUSIC INDUSTRY.

    its really the youngsters that need to wake up on this, i think old guys know the problem with these corpo scum.

    great article by the way, glad someone is willing to say something – you damn sure wont see Thrasher (monster energy piss suck ups) say anything about this.

    • ricky:

      i wish thrasher didn’t bitch out over it. they MUST know how lame they are

    • meep:

      if you skate vans shoes then shut the fuck up. they are as corporate as nike and adidas.

      • Dblock:

        skating deklines homie

      • Kyle McVey:

        oh really? I didn’t know that Nike and Adidas were the people to make the first skate shoe ever. There is a difference between being a larger successful brand who gives back to skateboarding and doesn’t take advantage just for a payday, and company’s that start in athletics and see that skateboarding is a thriving industry ripe with profit opportunities and swoop in. Just because they aren’t struggling in a basement doesn’t mean they aren’t there for skateboarding.

        http://vimeo.com/44345852

        • Alex Coles:

          No, Vans is pure corporation through and through. There is a difference between becoming successful and then growing into more mainstream industry, and mainstream industry coming into our culture, but it doesn’t make it alright. I understand why Vans is involved in surfing, that just makes sense, but for it to be involved in all this other bullshit that isn’t where it started isn’t okay. I don’t see Girl/Chocolate making BMX apparel or Independent showing up on the BMX scene. Vans became really popular over the years and now everybody is into them. But instead of them using that popularity to work for skateboarding, they’re just trying to make money off of it. Those new shoes that Vans just released are complete and utter garbage and have literally nothing to do with skateboarding. It’s disgusting.

        • Rat:

          Homie, Bmxers been riding vans slip ones since the early 80′s, it was the shoe to ride back then

      • Trey:

        I agree! I am a store manager of a skateshop in VA and Vans is one of the worst companies I have ever dealt with. I consider Nike more core than Vans.

      • brando:

        the skater chose vans to be r sk8 shoe many many years ago they stepped up to the plate and took the challenge
        nike supra and adidas can screw off.

        • Swag:

          Supra, while not making the best shoes, is a skateboarding based company, by real skateboarders. Sure the skytop is lame but it was started by Jim Greco and Erik Ellington.

        • Jason:

          Supra is not a corprate company it’s owned by muska.

      • Cross292:

        Well Addidas is a corpo brand but the Addidas I’m skating were given to me by a friend after I tore through a shitty pair of vans canvas which lasted me like 2 months. So I guess thats sort of anti-corp but I just can’t really afford new 40$ shoes. It also seems like Nike SBs and Addidas don’t last as long as they potentially could. They’re MEANT to tear after a short time so then you have to buy new ones.

    • nmsk8:

      At this point it seems, unfortunately, the companies we have all come to know and love will go under if they don’t sell out… Thats the way our capitalist society works, this is one of the most depressing things I have read in awhile, but I must say it was probably bound to happen, it has happened everywhere else, everyone has bought out everyone… the only way to get out of this is if skateboarders boycott skateboarding…we don’t know where our products even come from anymore because every company is owned by a larger company… start riding local companies or start pressing your own boards… that is the remedy, but it will never happen. why? because they don’t have the money to advertise and stay alive… f*&k money and greed and its grip on us all.

    • Ryan:

      This problem is easy, only buy local stuff. I’ve been riding local gear since 1999. If you talk to the guys at the local shop, you’ll find out where the crap is made. Almost decks can go choke on a fat dick. Almost ships Canadian maple to china, press, then ship back, cutting jobs to americans who skate the dame board… It’s easy to take down corps. buy local american made decks, and buys 40′s with your bros and go skate the street, having fun. corps are always gonna make money of the 8 year old grandmas boys who want to be cool, but I just ignore those bitches. Turning away from fat corps. and just skate. ignoring them will cut their shit in half. Skating is skating, if your carving up the sidewalk to some sublime, to jumping backyard fences to skate pools, to storming the local school for stair sets… Skating is skating, why would you let some fat piece of shit corp tell you what skating is! Skating is what you make of it. and too all those parents who dump money into their young kids to skate and become pro can go die in a hole! I see kids all the time shredding but not even having fun, there mindless robots thanks to their mommy’s paycheck… Sorry for the ranting… it’s true. Go watch the combi bowl on the weekends, you’ll see 10 years old doing blunts and 540′s in the pool, like shitty robots!

    • Jay:

      “skating will be dumbed down and twisted just like what happened to the MUSIC INDUSTRY.”

      The mainstream music industry is dumbed down and twisted. It always has been. There’s a ton of awesome independent artists that exist in parallel with mainstream performers. You can’t kill culture.

      • Goose:

        I originally read MUSIC INDUSTRY as MAGIC INDUSTRY

        I totally agree with you, but your comment was way better when I thought you were comparing skateboarders to magicians.

    • skate for communism:

      “Nike puma converse (commie stars)”

      why would a communist ever run a company? are you perhaps confusing “russian influence” with communism? what you ‘re saying is a conspiracy fairy-tale.

  2. StimCoCruzer:

    to take this a step further, we should also BOYCOTT PROS THAT ENDORSE THESE CORPO COMPANIES, until they switch back to skater owned and run brands

    personally, i lost all respect for Koston and P rod when they started riding for Nike (the brotherhood of saturn) and anyone who endorses red bull devil piss (which can actually kill you if drank regularly)

    let the incentive whores like thee thee and keelan dadd starve – we dont need corpo money lusting scum stinking up our thing anyways.

    death to corpo scum and all that support them!

    • Armin Halvadzic:

      what aboud Mark Gonzales riding for adidas ?

    • ryan:

      so your saying you want to boycott all the pros on nike, dc and adidas? who els is left, only a few recognizable skaters. sean malto, cory kennedy, ishod, koston, gonz, busenitz, shane oneill, mike mo, chris cole, chaz ortiz ect.. it wouldnt work their fan base and level of skating is too good. all these corpeations already stole all these skaters and what will make them want to turn back? less pay? it cant be done.

    • bruce:

      I totally hear that. Since when the fuck was it okay for a skateboarder to be sponsored by Mountain Dew or some shit and not be hated on? Since Paul Rodruguez, basically. He was the first guy I saw wearing gear that was specifically edited to showcase sponsors, i.e. MD embroideries added to his hats. Cole has fucking monster logos screened on everything he wears. There was a time when this kind of shit seriously did not fly. It’s fucking corny. At least some of the big pros are classy enough not to ride for soda companies.

      • jon:

        but how does riding for a soda company hurt the skate community? agreed it looks lame as hell, but put yourself in their shoes- getting a good size paycheck for sporting a few shitty looking stickers, not a bad deal.

        • Hektor:

          Soda is bad for our bones and joints. Monster and Redbull should not be used by teens whose bodies are already charging full speed ahead.

      • Zaxxon:

        Well stated Bruce.

    • CJ:

      Yeah man fuck the corporations! I’m such a rebel XD.

    • Rat:

      So “pro” skaters aren’t human beings just like us? With families that need supporting, medic aid to pay, bills etc?
      I f#cking hope to hell none of the hypocrites in the comment section make a living working for some corporation/overly profit motivated business. The problem is with society not the skaters, if you want to point fingers at anyone you better take a good hard look at your own life, the car you drive, the food you eat, the job you have.

      As always do your best to support the right people and brands that keep it real, after that just f#ck everything and go skate, don’t waste time being a hater, that’s not were the love lies.

  3. StimCoCruzer:

    well i also need to say, that youre right. contests have actually infected the “ART” of skating. take for example P-Rod VS Gravette in the NYC maloof cup.

    Boring a** P-rod doing everything by a “winning strategy” tail, switch tail, kf, switch kf etc… boring!!! all just to win money! wheres the passion?

    on the other hand you have Gravette who is one of the most exciting dudes out there, which they scored like sh*t because he went “out of bounds” on a grind that the crowd went nuts over!

    youre right if the corpos take over, you can kiss barletta, raemers, and hell even gonz and mullen goodbye, we’ll be left with only “contest robots” that arent even real to me.

    in the wise words of fugazi “its not what they’re selling, its what you’re buying!”

    • Steve:
    • Tythos:

      Something interesting to note is that Rodney Mullen has given away each and every trophy or medal he ever won, the contest meant nothing to him, he just wanted to skate.

      In a world where lady GaGa is considered a talented musician (editors note she is not talented in any way) Nickleback have the #1 selling rock album of all time and Nicholas Cage is considered an Actor (he doesn’t act he just says words) are you at all surprised corpo’s are bottling up something else they can sell you.

      The actual problem lays with the consumers, if you stop supporting it, it wont only go away, it wont come back.

      That coffee shop accross from Starbucks went away because no-one was supporting it, and now, no-one else will open a coffee shop there, its simple, its what fugazi said, and unfortunately it all starts with one person and that person has to be you.

      • Rorro:

        Tythos, luckily here in Argentina (Downtown Buenos Aires) one day one of Blockbuster’s stores opened right next door to a little video rent store. This caused such an impact on the neighbours that no one rented a single video and they had to leave. Several years later the whole Brand left the country. Same thing happened to Domino’s, Dunkin’, PIzza (Jabba the Hutt).
        Beyond the macroechonomic variables, people realized there were no need to get a plastic pizza look a like, instead a real one, even cheaper.
        Stayin’ true to yourself it’s a good begining to fight back all those fat asses pennysucker corporations.

  4. lurker:

    ^^ this guys got a small thesis over here

  5. Kesho:

    U so on point i’ve been telling this sad truf4 a whell now it’s been comeing it’s here understand skateboading is a interlic spot like golf it’s wath alot n we live in a greedy world

Leave a comment

*
*

Classics

LOAD MORE

website by dedleg